The idea of time tracking can be off-putting for many teams at first, but the advantages of time tracking can't be ignored and teams generally support the practice once they understand the potential benefits. The advantages are so great, that it even makes sense for creative services teams who don’t chargeback for their time as it enables these teams to demonstrate the value of their time to their business partners. Time tracking can support staff justification, resource planning, client process changes, project forecasting models, and more. Time tracking in creative services is necessary to monitor utilization and productivity. 

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According to Cella’s 2022 In-House Creative Industry Report, 63% of teams track time, and 49% of those teams use a tool to track time.

Let's examine some of the ways time tracking can be implemented and how to make it an integral part of your organization.

Project Tracking

One method of time tracking entails that staff record their total time at the overall project level. However, time captured at the project level won’t provide you with the insights you can glean from a more granular level. You won’t be able to tell where things went off the rails, and more importantly – you won’t be able to course correct and fine tune things as you proceed.  A more accurate method of time tracking is to capture the hours spent at the activity or task level. The time for each task (e.g., concept development, production, copywriting) can be recorded with more accuracy, especially if it's done as each task is completed. If using an automated workflow system, time should be captured as the task progress is updated.

Activity Tracking   

Tracking time by activity is helpful as it allows you to understand the shifts in demand within work streams. Activities tracked should include your department's core functions: production design, graphic design, multimedia design, web design, proofreading, copywriting, project management, etc. If you learn that demand is higher or lower than supply, you need to understand what segment of your demand varies from supply so you can adjust your resourcing accordingly.  Data collection through activity-based time tracking empowers Creative Executives to make data driven business decisions. For example, are you seeing an increase in demand for digital resources that needs to be addressed either through temporary freelance staff or justification for a new position? 

Ideally, time is entered on a daily basis and tracked in an automated workflow tool. If not, it's probably a last-minute activity at the end of the day on Friday and likely less accurate. Capturing time data in a tool also enables you to compare your planned vs actual hours and improve project estimates going forward.

In my experience there are often multiple reasons that staff struggle with tracking time. First, team members often fail to recognize the importance of time tracking. Often no one has explained that time records are not used as a way of micromanaging resources, but instead for tracking critical operational metrics, gaining justification to hire new team members and establishing chargeback costs (when applicable). Second, is that team members can feel that time spent recording time is wasted time that takes them away from the projects they are working hard to complete. Selecting the right software where entering your hours is easily done (and some applications, like Adobe Workfront allow time to be captured in creative tools and pushed back to the workflow tool, see here) can help ease the burden and change these perceptions.


Addressing these issues must be part of the implementation of time tracking. Staff need to understand the value of the data they are generating and the need for accuracy. They also need to understand that entering that data is not taking away from their job--it is part of their job. In fact, some creative departments include adherence to time tracking protocols within performance review criteria. Challenges that arise with the introduction of time tracking are manageable and most can be effectively dealt with up front by including a strong change management program and effective training as part of the implementation process.

Learn more about the ways time tracking can support your resourcing requests and alleviate crunch times by balancing allocations by emailing us at [email protected] or by talking with a Cella Creative Operations Consultant today.